Researchers at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Genome Center are taking part in an ambitious NIH initiative to make it easier for scientists to share research data and scientific tools online.
"Harvesting the wealth of information in biomedical data will advance our understanding of human health and disease," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins in a news release. "However, poor data accessibility is a major barrier to translating data into understanding. The NIH Data Commons Pilot Phase is an important effort to remove that barrier."
NIH is supporting the pilot project with 12 grants totaling $9 million over four years. Titus Brown, associate professor in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and at the Genome Center, is principal investigator of one of the grants funded by the program.
"My role in this initial six-month consortium is to try to channel the larger goals of the consortium via a series of workshops and the like. Basically I'm trying to be the facilitator that gets everyone interoperating technically (and to some extent socially)," Brown said.
The pilot phase of the NIH Data Commons will test the feasibility of making "digital objects" through the cloud. "Digital objects" can include both data, such as DNA or protein sequences and tools for analyzing and handling data. The end goal is to "accelerate biomedical discoveries by making biomedical research data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR) for more researchers," according to the NIH.
To reach those goals, the researchers will have to solve significant problems. It's not just a case of uploading files to a server: all potential users need to be able to find and access the information, datasets need to be compatible and function together, and tools and databases need to function across multiple different servers and platforms. At the same time, the Data Commons needs to authenticate users, verify data and protect patient data and other sensitive information.
The project will kick off with an all-hands meeting in early December.